Book Review: A Tiger in the Tree

Herbert X. “Tree” Tremont is a multiethnic golf superstar with 14 major championships, a signature apparel line (named Tree Trunk, naturally), a $61 million yacht, several private planes, a swimsuit model for a wife, two adorable children and an overbearing agent.

Sound familiar? 

Tree, the subject of the thoroughly entertaining new book “The Swinger,” seemingly had the perfect life. But for Tree, that wasn’t enough.

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The Swinger • By Michael Bamberger and Alan Shipnuck • Simon & Schuster/Sports Illustrated • 254 pages; hard cover; $25

“Tree wanted everything,” writes Josh Dutra, the narrator, who plays O.B. Keeler to Tree’s decidedly flawed Bobby Jones. “He wanted the hot nightlife and the kiddie-soccer home life and the glamorous wife and the get-rich-now corporate life that was the foundation of the PGA Tour. To keep it all going, he had to wallpaper his life with lies.”

“The Swinger” serves as evidence that truth sometimes is stranger than fiction. Had it been released two years ago, readers would have laughed at its absurdity. 

But “The Swinger” feels more allegorical, with the fictional pretense providing cover for the authors, a pair of Sports Illustrated veterans, to speculate and pontificate on the Woods affair. 

The driving force in Tree’s life is his father, Herb, a domineering Vietnam vet who sees his uber-gifted son as one part golfer, two parts messiah. 

“He’s not even thirty,” Herb tells Josh. “Think of what he can do. With his wealth? His popularity? He’s the (expletive deleted) chosen one. Makes me pinch myself.”

Tree’s orbit is populated by a colorful cast whose caricatures are recognizable. There’s Will Martinsen, Tree’s “true rival,” with the popular, squeaky-clean image of Phil Mickelson; Turner Darlington, whose unconventional style will recall Nike’s Phil Knight; a mysterious doctor who dispenses miracle cures one syringe at a time; and Tree’s agent, Andrew Finkelman, who is saddled with the sobriquets “Finky” and “Dr. No” – an apparent swipe at Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg. 

For 200-plus pages, Tree’s tale essentially tracks the Woods saga, up to and including the point where his wife, Belinda, discovers the extent of his affairs and Tree departs for rehab, asking the public to “believe in me again.” 

At that point, the stories diverge, as Tree embraces rehab and makes an extraordinary, if improbable, personal turnabout. Without spoiling the ending, it seems pretty clear that Tree becomes the man that the authors would like Woods to be. 

In other words, the comedy morphs into a fairy tale.

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